WHILE the nation is still smarting from the illegal siege to the National Assembly Complex by armed and hooded men of the Directorate of State Services, DSS, which led to the summary dismissal of its Director General, Alhaji Lawal Daura, another Federal agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has embarked on some highly questionable adventures against some states.
Operatives of the Commission froze the accounts of the Benue State Government in several banks on the pretext that it was investigating alleged misappropriation of N22 billion security vote by the State Governor, Samuel Ortom who recently defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
Again, shortly after the defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio from the PDP to the APC on Wednesday, 8th August 2018, the Akwa Ibom State Government announced that the EFCC had also frozen its accounts, though the anti-graft Agency quickly denied it. The question is: does the EFCC have the power to freeze accounts belonging to the States or Local governments?
There is no part of our 1999 Constitution (As Amended) that grants such powers to the Federal Government or any of its agencies. However, though Section 308 grants the President, Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor immunity from criminal prosecution while still in office, it is settled law that the EFCC can investigate these elected executive officials.
Furthermore, though Section 6(d) of the EFCC Act 2004 empowers the Commission to “trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crimes-related offences…” this must be done through court warrants as Section 34 directs. Again, this applies only to individuals and organisations. This law never granted the Commission the power to freeze government accounts or money belonging to the public.
Only the State Houses of Assembly have the power to investigate how funds from the state treasuries are being spent and to take measures to apply appropriate sanctions on the Chief Executive (the Governor) if found to have mismanaged the public finances.
Our Presidential system of government as defined by the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) has succinctly drawn clear boundaries of powers between the three tiers of government. These spurious moves by the EFCC to meddle in the finances of the states smack of impunity. It is unacceptable.
Attempts by the EFCC to freeze the accounts of states are highly condemnable because they can lead to the disruption of governance. It is against the public interest. The people of each state and their elected representatives in the legislatures remain the only authorities to question how their treasuries are being managed.
The EFCC should keep strictly within the bounds of the Constitution and its enabling law.